New Hires at Pinterest Hint at More Video Ads -- and New Categories -- to Come

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Pinterest launched autoplay video ads in May.
Pinterest launched autoplay video ads in May. Credit: Pinterest

Pinterest is undergoing an ad team reboot, picking off talent from top competitors Google and Facebook, as the company looks to infuse the site with more video and expand the types of brands it attracts.

Pinterest announced Thursday the hiring of a new head of ad products Jon Alferness, a 13-year veteran of shopping and travel products at Google. The announcement follows a lesser known, but equally telling, hire of Meredith Guerriero, who last worked at Facebook on its global strategy and commercialization of programmatic ad offerings.

The latest hires round out a new ad staff that was recruited from agencies and brands. This year, Pinterest hired its first consumer goods lead from Mondel├ęz and launched auto and entertainment verticals.

Pinterest needs a new direction to finally deliver on the promise of its business, which has yet to take off despite its innovative website with plenty of potential for brands to reach audiences.

"They have shifted their product strategy," said one media executive, who works closely with Pinterest on its new video product.

Last year, Pinterest invited publishers and media players like BuzzFeed and HGTV to develop content for the site to compete with the growing video offerings on Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter. The publishers can contribute to an explore tab, which was developed to rival media sections on rival apps like Snapchat. The partners post videos and other content catered to Pinterest, with topics ranging from food to gardening.

"To fully embrace monetization on video," the media partner said. "You've got to arm the sales team with people equipped to sell video specific ads."

Some partners say the section has helped draw more traffic to their Pinterest presence, but no official stats have been revealed. One partner said that Pinterest was still modifying the product, and hasn't landed on a revenue plan to make more money from it, yet. Pinterest is still tinkering with how to incorporate publishers and video, attract audiences to it and make money.

Alferness will lead the ad products team, which will look to find more ways to monetize video. "He brings significant product experience to the company, including deep e-commerce domain knowledge and expertise across search and display advertising," Tim Kendall, Pinterest's president said in an e-mail announcement Thursday. "Jon will make an immediate impact as we continue to roll out more ad solutions that deliver strong, measurable results for our partners."

Alferness was not reachable for comment, because he was still employed by Google at the time of the announcement.

Pinterest has been a mystery in much of the ad world, because of its hesitancy to fully commercialize the platform, according to agency insiders. Madison Avenue isn't sure if it's a search ad competitor to rival Google or a display advertising social platform.

Still, it's kept a strong audience and made a compelling case for brands as the place where people post curate their consumer desires. Pinterest claims 175 million monthly active users worldwide. Meanwhile, comScore said it had 90.8 million U.S. visitors in May, down from May 2016 when it had 92.6 million U.S. Visitors.

Pinterest has set a goal of $500 million in ad revenue this year, according to Recode and confirmed by a person familiar with the number. An agency executive, familiar with the new hiring strategy, said that Guerriero would help Pinterest start doing more to advertise groceries and shopping, a space that's gotten considerably hotter since Amazon bought Whole Foods. Pinterest, of course, is where people post aspirational pictures and articles on home design, cooking, travel, shopping and products that offer a glimpse into their commercial wish list.

Pinterest also intends to invest in its ad measurement to give brands a clearer sense of when ads help lead to sales.

"Tying campaigns to grocery purchase is compelling," said the media partner. "It could get brands to invest more in the platform."

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